Excellent article by Jacki Rand

If you haven’t seen it, you must–now–go read Jacki Thompson Rand’s article “Why I Can’t Visit the National Museum of the American Indian: Reflections of an accidental privileged insider, 1989-1994.”

I was a student of Jacki’s several years ago. Her course “Museum Literacy and Historical Memory” at the University of Iowa was the first (and, OK, only) museum studies course I took. It was phenomenal, mostly because Jacki has so much passion for the topic–a passion that shines through in this interesting and informative article.

I’ll have more comments on this article soon. At the moment I’m busy busy. . .


  1. Nina Simon says:

    A fascinating article. I’ve felt conflicted about NMAI for a long time, because it is one answer to the question: what happens when you seek to create a museum not just about but by a group of non-professionals? I’m constantly torn between enthusiasm for Web 2.0-like projects, in which visitors contribute content and curate, and highly narrative experiences that are the result of a single thematic design “story.” To me as a (non-Native) visitor, NMAI is confusing and superficial–the polyphony of voices washes out, rather than amplifying, the experiences presented. And yet I know others who worked on or have visited the museum who believe that it represents a “success” in the telling of stories by the storytellers (and story owners) themselves.

    There’s a related question/problem here that comes up in Jacki’s essay–who decides who owns a story? To Jacki, the stories that NMAI chose to tell were not sufficient to represent the Native American experience legitimately. To me, the stories did not create a sufficiently cohesive or impactful experience. And because they were not the work of a single designer, there’s no one person for Jacki or me to point to and say “he/she got it wrong.” Is the process wrong? Did they choose the wrong storytellers? How can this work–the museum “by” the people?

    My guess is the fact that NMAI is a federal institution of a huge size makes it one of the most challenging places to embark on this kind of experiment. In this way, I see it as a useful, not entirely successful innovation. But that doesn’t make it a great museum. I hope they’ll keep trying.

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